The Voice of the People?

 

The people have spoken. More accurately they rather quietly slipped into the isolation of polling booths and secretly made their marks on ballot papers. This amidst the clamour of hyperbolic voices speaking with forked tongues.

The constitutional status of referenda in Britain is ambiguous. The broader history of the plebiscite is troubling, it being the favoured tool of the despot eager for at least a vestige of popular credibility. It is a blunt instrument allowing only choice between predetermined polls.

The 2016 referendum on EU membership was essentially called to settle a long running and acrimonious dispute in the Conservative Party in particular, and British capitalism more generally. It was largely a campaign of competing assertions largely devoid of factual detail.

The result was a small majority in favour of withdrawal from the EU. This has subsequently become the democratic will of the British people as a whole, or at least that is essentially how it is being portrayed by triumphalist Brexiteers.

That there was a majority is beyond question, around 17.4 million people voted for leaving. However, that is only about 37% of the electorate. Therefore, 63% did not vote for Brexit, a rather larger if quietly spoken voice.

Of course that figure includes more than a quarter of the electorate who did not vote, but this must not be construed to imply apathy. Indeed, this may well be the most clear sighted section of the electorate, the ones who realised there was no rational way of voting either way.

With an absence of certain data and no possible way of knowing what the future consequences of staying or leaving might be – both sides could only offer partial speculation – the only reasonable response was not to vote either way. There should have been a third option on the ballot paper, “Neither of the Above”.

The onus could then have been on the Leave campaign to achieve a clear majority of the electorate. This, at least, would indicate a more accurate view of voters’ wishes at that moment. Yet, another problem lies here though.

So far consideration has only been given to the electorate as constituted on the day of the vote, but the implications of acting on that vote affects the futures of everyone, even, perhaps especially, those not eligible due to age.

Voters in favour of Brexit constituted about 26% of the population. This, it must be remembered, was a referendum, not an election. Were a government returned on 26% it would only be for 4 or 5 years, after which that result could be reversed.

Also, those too young in any given election do eventually grow up and have the opportunity to vote and undo whatever political mess their elders might have created. The Brexit vote is being cast as once and for all time, allowing the past to dictate to the future.

The 2016 referendum actually resolved nothing. The inequalities, the social and economic problems, the pernicious ideological influence of nationalism, all of which influenced the vote, are symptomatic of capitalism. Following the vote, following withdrawal from the EU, capitalism will adapt and remain.

Voting in the referendum, either way, was largely an exercise in magical thinking, that an X on a piece of paper is some sort of votive offering to forces beyond the control of ordinary men and women that might grant a future much better than the present.

Whatever it was, the referendum result was not the voice of the people ringing out loudly and clearly. In fact, it wasn’t even a majority, but, in capitalist terms, a democratic decision notwithstanding.

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Non-Marxist Leninism

 

I must begin with a mea culpa. For around four decades I have been associated with Marxism Leninism, sometimes actively, often more passively. What I have demonstrated to myself is an individual’s capacity for self-delusion.

In this centenary year of the Russian Revolution the ideology associated with Lenin continues to be presented, by adherents and foes alike, as the dominant expression of Marxism. This despite the abject failure of the Soviet Union and its bloc.

Then there is “socialism with Chinese characteristics” or burgeoning capitalism protected by an authoritarian one party state. Cross the border into North Korea and the only socialism to be found is akin to National Socialism.

Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela et al make various socialistic claims and can boast some successes with enlightened social policies. However, the working class in each still stands in the same relationship to capital as in avowedly capitalist countries, with the common tendency to authoritarianism.

That Cuba remains in conflict with its larger nearby neighbour is not confirmation of socialist status. It became an outpost of Soviet influence when the national revolutionary leader Castro, who’d previously claimed no such affiliations, adopted Marxism Leninism to counteract US aggression over the loss of American interests.

Stated boldly, the working class may have succeeded in acquiring limited influence in the ruling bodies of capitalist states, but without assuming control, or anything approaching it, anywhere. Those states that developed state capitalism as the dominant mode as opposed to the “free” market, adopted Communist as a label of convenience.

Socialism, actually synonymous with Communism in Marxist terms, became the rocky road with Communism promoted as the distant, very distant, destination. As for the state “withering away”, it actually became much stronger and entrenched before eventually just moribund.

Nonetheless, mention socialism or communism to many, perhaps most, folk and it’s the Leninist manifestation that is conjured up. Indeed, whatever fleeting contact people have with socialism it is usually in the form of a Communist Party, of which there are quite a few, or a Socialist party/group styling themselves Trotskyite, of which there are more.

Despite the mutual antipathy to each other, all share a common feature; their origins lie in Leninism and the Russian Revolution. Each is determined to express its exclusive brand of Marxism and lead the working class along the socialist road to the promised land of communism. And all, in the unlikely circumstances of actually being in a position to do so, would actually establish state capitalism.

What defines socialism in Marxist terms is the relationship of the working class to the means of wealth creation: does the working class have full control over those means being held democratically in common? If workers are employed by the state, paid wages by the state, with the state controlling the means of wealth creation and surplus value, then that is capitalism.

The attraction of Marxism Leninism is the sense that unless it is led by those who understand the grander scheme, workers will at best develop what Lenin referred to as “trade union consciousness”, going no further than making bargains with capitalism.

Indeed, the working class has, so far, singularly failed to lift its eyes from the politics of the here and now, to the grander vision of what is actually possible. The temptation is to take people by the political scruff and drag them to their destination. Unfortunately, that destination is the state claiming to act on their behalf.

However, unless the working class acts on its own behalf by consciously pursuing its own interests, socialism cannot come about. To be blunt, if the working class cannot be educated to vote for socialism where it is able to do so, then it certainly won’t pursue other self-defeating measures such as armed insurrection.

Socialism is not a simple matter of an overwhelming parliamentary majority. That would be an indication that the working class was organising a new society for itself. Until Leninism has been decoupled from Marxism it will continue to be an ideological bulwark containing working class potential.

Having recognised I was afflicted by elective political blindness I am clearing my vision and seeing there is no short cut. It is also clear to me defending the indefensible – Leninism and its derivatives Stalinism and Trotskyism – is, in the tragic terms of the Soviet purges, a crime against the people.

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Korea

 

Is the USA the defender of life and liberty in Korea? The straightforward answer is decisively, no! It is an imperialist presence, maintaining large aggressive force in the South and conducting belligerent military operations that can only be interpreted as threatening in the North.

The fate of regimes in Iraq and Libya that the USA have taken against offer dire examples of what can happen due to a disproportionate balance of forces. Whatever the iniquities of those now former regimes, the resulting protracted chaos following their removal serve as warnings.

So it is hardly surprising that the government of a country brought into the cross-hairs of US attention should adopt heightened measures of self-defence. However, while Saddam Hussain did not have weapons of mass destruction, Kim Jong Un most certainly does.

The sight of missiles on transporters amidst massed ranks of goose stepping troops parading through the streets of the capital is disturbing. It is suggestive that if there is socialism in the DPRK then it is National Socialism.

It is surely incumbent on those professing to be the vanguard leadership of the proletariat that they do not use the working class, their own country’s or those elsewhere, as political bargaining chips.

Nuclear weapons cannot be used to defend a way of life. To think otherwise is to be subject to a delusional oxymoron. It is incumbent on Marxists, Communists and Socialists to agitate and work for the destruction of such weapons, not be advocates for weapons of catastrophic destruction.

That this creates a dilemma for those subjected to US threats then this has to be faced. At the very least, if such a leadership has responded by developing its own nuclear weapons, surely it should be seeking as loudly as possible to trade them for co-existence at least, if outright peace cannot be achieved.

Bellicose threats and defiant displays invite only greater offensive reaction. Any misjudgement in such precariously attuned circumstances brings disaster down on the people, whose subsequent mass slaughter would be a tragic affirmation that they are powerless, the very antithesis of socialism.

It is for parties, groups, individuals who claim to be Marxists to shed any delusions about the supposed progressive nature of any nation, itself an anti-Marxist concept, which vehemently promotes nuclear weapons as the salvation of the people.

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Flash View 4: Accusing Syria

 

BBC Radio 4’s “Today” (Tuesday, 27th June) carried a statement by a US spokesman claiming the Syrian government was preparing a chemical attack on civilians.

The spokesman went on to make other unsubstantiated accusations including that the Assad government was responsible for creating ISIS.

The US knows about chemical attacks. Four decades after its defeat in Vietnam there are still many suffering the effects of Agent Orange. It also knows that ISIS is descended from their creature, the Mujahidin, and developed through the chaos of US, and British, action in Iraq.

Who would actually benefit from such a chemical outrage?

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Flash View 3: Mind the Generation Gap

 

It was votes of the young, naively optimistic/self-interested (abolition of tuition fees), or the old, cynical/self-interested baby boomers, who betrayed the nation. Or at least, that seems to be the underlying theme of election commentators.

What is wrong with self-interest? If the working class of any age was more self-interested it wouldn’t continue to put up with the fundamental cause of its problems, capitalism.

The young, the old and all in-between have a common self-interest in creating a society that meets the needs of them all, not just the profit of the very few.

 

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May Election in June

 

When the prime minister called this election the prospect of a Labour victory appeared fanciful. There were seemingly foolhardy protestations that the yawning gulf measured by opinion pollsters might be reduced, but surely not significantly so?

Theresa May has shown herself to be incompetent as a politician, choosing to present her cult of a personality that is both insipid and dour. Worse, for her, a reputation for strength and decisiveness has been tarnished by a campaign of indecision and vacillation.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has displayed vigour and resolution, promoting, through Labour’s manifesto, an alternative increasing numbers of the electorate find appealing.

The terrorist outrages have starkly demonstrated the baleful consequences of Tory austerity; it leaves people vulnerable. The loss of 20,000 police officers, and a similar number of community support officers, has reflected badly on the former Home Secretary.

If the Tories do lose the election there will be the irony that law and order is an important contributory factor.

But, will the Tories lose?

The majority of voters are workers whose interests should be contrary to the Conservatives’. However, there is a Trojan paralysing working class programmes called Brexit.

Just a year ago a slim majority voted to leave the EU. There was good reason to do so from a working class perspective. The EU is undoubtedly constituting itself as a pan-European super-state to serve the imperialistic aims of its capitalist class.

Voting to leave, though, merely launches the working class into the orbits of other imperialist blocs, most likely a transatlantic one centred on the USA. Whichever way the working class voted in the referendum, capitalism was the victor.

It is the custom to refer to a capitalist class, but this can convey an impression that capitalism is homogeneous. Most definitely this is not the case. It is a barely tempered chaos of competition, and it was competing capitalist elements that used the referendum in pursuit of partisan ends.

The anti-EU faction successfully fascinated enough of the electorate through the illusion of sovereignty. It is illusory because the restrictions and demands of the EU are to be exchanged for restriction and demands of arrangements, deals, with other capitalist blocs.

Since the turn of the twentieth century, and before, capitalism has been a worldwide system in which vestiges of national sovereignty are allowed for as long as they don’t contradict capitalist imperatives.

The Brexit vote serves as an ideological restraint, encouraging nationalist, too often xenophobic, thinking, that continues to serve capitalist purposes as a prophylactic against class consciousness and the internationalism that entails.

Many who might otherwise vote Labour on 8th June might vote for May the Brexiteer, despite her having been a tepid remainer.  She could well harness votes that would usually be denied the Tories because of the vague perception that she’ll negotiate some ill-defined “good deal for Britain”.

In this digital era the purpose of Trojans is to paralyse, even destroy, programmes. Brexit, for or against, might well serve to do precisely that to the Labour programme.

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Manchester Triptych

 

!

Floret of flame, echo of the big bang,

Flinging innocent creation apart,

Flaying thin skin from an orderly world,

Punching and pummelling breaking bodies,

Undoing flesh with nuts and bolts and screws,

Undoing families in a moment,

Undoing this cause through its own effect,

Discounting the life which this is the sum,

Discounting lives summarily totalled,

Immaculate lives blown out in a flash.

?

Who the bomber? One dressed in his best vest,

High on the opiates of his people?

Or higher, two miles high, super sonic

And scratching the sky so close to the void?

Or miles out to sea, maybe, on a cruise?

Or cruising through cyber space and zapping

Pixilated people deaf to the drone?

And who the victims? Outlines coloured in

With bold strokes broad enough to blur edges,

Such simplified figures, which children count?

$ + £…

Words are not cheap, they do cost lives, spoken

With redacted care to prick sentiments

With forked tongues, justifying calls to arms

For the hundred years and more war, all one

Global war over branding, re-branding,

Bottom lines, arrayed on banners, dressed up

In various uniforms, or civvies,

Obscured by common words, such as Great War,

Second World, Cold and Hot, Insurgency.

And then, on the home front, comes a flash point.

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